In the world of publicity, they don’t make them like Coconut Grove’s Charlie Cinnamon anymore
Charlie Cinnamon would rather not talk about himself. Mention his name to anyone in the South Florida arts community, and they’ll tell you he’s the stuff of legend. But when it comes to himself, the Coconut Grove resident defers. “Why don’t you do a story on …” he suggests. “Or how about …”
That’s Cinnamon’s comfort zone: spreading the word about someone or something else. He’ll tell you he’s not the story, just the storyteller.
In South Florida, Cinnamon is the go-to press agent. Press agent—that’s what he calls himself. Don’t call him a publicist or a public relations practitioner. “That’s been swallowed up by marketing,” says the 50-year veteran of the entertainment business. The difference, Cinnamon explains, is “communicating one on one—not just on email or Twitter. Everyone I’ve worked with in the media world aren’t just connections; they are friends. The relationships I’ve built through the years remain personal.”
He’s decidedly old-school, in the style of legendary press agents who spun the news from Broadway and Hollywood in the days before technology replaced the human touch. On any given day for breakfast, lunch or dinner—sometimes all three, although he says he’s cut down on the dinners—you’ll find Cinnamon continuing to “build relationships,” both old and new. His favorite meeting place is the Panorama Restaurant & Sky Lounge on the eighth floor of the Sonesta Hotel, about a mile from his house, with views of Biscayne Bay—his Miami version of Sardi’s, the famed Times Square restaurant and bar where celebrities and their agents still meet.
“Everyone I’ve worked with in the media world aren’t just connections; they are friends.”
Sometimes he’s at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, where his client and friend, Pinecrest’s Joy Wallace, founder of her eponymous catering and design company, is the in-house operator and caterer for the Gardens’ cafe.
These days, he’s knee-deep in promoting the Broadway in Miami and Broadway in Fort Lauderdale seasons.
ARRIVING IN MIAMI
He hadn’t intended to become the point man in local entertainment circles. After graduating from New York University in the 1950s with a degree in journalism and, as he says, not wanting to spend his life in the subways of New York, Cinnamon remembered some friends who lived in Miami. Soon after graduation, he headed for the sunshine. “I tried to get work but I realized I wasn’t a newspaper person because I hated deadlines,” he says.
A friend he had made at the library, Helga Easton, introduced him to Helen Alpert, the publicist for Miami Beach’s Empress Hotel on 43rd Street. “I came in as an assistant and I was plying my trade with her,” Cinnamon says. “Then a couple of months later, she quit. That was the beginning of my career.”
It was a time when Miami Beach was the glamour capital of the world. “I wish you could have lived through it,” he says. “Gorgeous hotels and fantastic restaurants.” He remembers the crème de la crème arriving for the winter months—when Frank Sinatra and his pals were staples in town and visitors from up north would “bake in the sun in the day, then dress up for dinner in the evening. It is a time that I don’t think Miami Beach will ever see again.”
He was a natural schmoozer and made contacts while at the hotel and began publicizing some nightclubs. A $25-a-week gig for bawdy comedian Patsy Abbott, who had her own Miami Beach lounge in the 1950s and ’60s, was his first formal foray into the entertainment business.
But it was a “gimmick” Cinnamon conjured to promote the musical “Irma La Douce” at the Coconut Grove Playhouse that turned into one of the country’s biggest arts festivals. “Since the show is about a Parisian policeman who falls in love with a prostitute,” he recalls, “I thought it might be fun to do a street show with artists that would replicate Paris’s Left Bank. The Grove was such an artists’ haven, and they were all over the place.”
Now held every President’s Day weekend, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival is in its 53rd year. “It is one of my greatest achievements,” Cinnamon proudly says.
A nearly three-decade professional relationship with Broadway producer Zev Buffman helped build Cinnamon’s Rolodex. Yes, he still has one of those, and it reads like a Who’s Who of classic showbiz. “The first big star I worked with was Gypsy Rose Lee,” he says, “but before that it was Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Charlton Heston, Walter Pidgeon and Claudette Colbert, just to name a few.”
As Buffman’s national press representative, Cinnamon publicized more than 40 Broadway shows and more than 100 national tours. One of the most notable was Elizabeth Taylor’s theatrical stage debut at the Parker Playhouse in a Buffman-produced show, Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” which eventually led to her 1981 Broadway debut. They developed a personal friendship. The two created history together when he brought Taylor to South Florida in 1988 for the first Community Alliance Against AIDS fundraiser, which resulted in $2.1 million for research.
“It was the largest amount ever raised in a single night in the country,” Cinnamon says.
With Buffman, he successfully launched the national campaign that brought the NBA’s Miami Heat to South Florida. “I handled the Heat before it became a franchise. I recommended Pauline Winick,” he says, referring to the former TV producer for WPLG-Channel 10, communications director for Miami-Dade County and owner of her public relations company who became the Heat’s executive vice president when it became a franchise.
His expertise and support is woven into the historical fabric of some of Miami’s most important arts institutions, including Judy Drucker’s Concert Association of Florida, and the Miami City Ballet and his longtime affiliation with founder Toby Lerner Ansin. He brought Monaco’s Princess Caroline to Miami for a benefit for the ballet and orchestrated a fundraiser in 1991 that was a tribute to Ted Arison, the Carnival Cruise Lines founder. The final tally was $5 million for the benefit of the New World Symphony and the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.
A wealth of stories that rival any gossip column, Cinnamon fondly recalls the time he was with Taylor in a limousine as it sped away from her Broadway debut outside the Martin Beck Theatre.
“We were headed to Tavern on the Green after the show, and people were outside of the car trying to get a look inside,” Cinnamon recalls. “It was mayhem. I can still hear her incredible laugh. I’ll never forget it—full of gusto, she kept saying, ‘More! I want more!’ And she’d laugh and laugh.”
It’s that same intensity he has when asked about plans to retire. “Nope. Never. I have to keep on working,” he says. “I have a good time. I love doing it all!”